Human and Nature Relationship:  An Opponent or a Part?

İnsan ve Doğa İlişkisi: Rakip mi, Parça mı?

The history of the relationship between human and nature is a relationship that is as deep-rooted and old as the history itself. Humans are compulsorily born into nature. The question of how this relationship is going to be now seems to be of even more importance than ever for all of us. Because the status of the planet that we are all a part of takes this question to an extremely important level. Climate, forests, natural life, urban pollution… They are all urgently alarming. In this article, let’s try to focus on the structure of the relationship between human and nature.

Nature has always been a source of mystery and curiosity for humans. This is proven by the fact that those present at the beginning of Philosophy in Ancient Greece were named “nature philosophers”. Nature constantly triggers the philosophical curiosity. In early periods, philosophy and nature-oriented thinking were almost the same things. It is possible to say that questions, such as what the nature is or how it functions, are the questions that developed simultaneously with the development of philosophy. Asking questions on nature also leads to the appearance of a philosopher-like attitude. The way we are associated with it directly reveals many things related to the humanity of humans.

When considered with this background, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who is probably the most unique name of the 18th and 19th centuries within the framework of the concept of nature and whose 250th birthday will be celebrated this year, has a genuine approach towards nature, which provides humans with various precious opportunities with regards to various problems. He is both the founding name of this field, and a great source of inspiration. Andrea Wulf’s book titled “The Invention of Nature”, which focuses on Humboldt’s long life, his researches and his great passion for nature, shows us all these in detail.

While Humboldt, as a child of the Age of Enlightenment, was searching for human’s position on the earth, this was leading him to nature inevitably. Hence, it seems it is almost impossible to separate these two. Human and nature were integrated forms of one another. Nature, which he was chasing passionately, enabled him to go all the way to South America that was really difficult to reach. Humboldt was a great explorer, a great nature admirer, whom was consulted by the politicians of that period. His researches regarding the geography and nature, animals and indigenous people of the continent required him to spend a full 5 years in this continent of a natural beauty.

Humboldt, before anything else, emphasizes that nature is in “integrity”, along with the relationship between each part of it. Today, this corresponds to what’s called an ecosystem of living things, and Humboldt is one of the fundamental sources behind this idea. Humboldt made enormous contributions to this nomenclature. Nature is an integrity that covers humans as well. At the same time, as Humboldt put, “nature is the sphere of influence of freedom”.

Humans treating nature as its masters, who may do as they wish, creates a big misunderstanding. A rational world view, which is shaped by the opinion that the world has a knowable structure beyond the unknown, is not supposed to apply this fact to nature. This assumption of mastery therefore leads to the end of humans. For instance, a fundamental change in the forest ecosystem of a country (it can also be called a “destruction/slaughter”) will also cause changes in the climate, which will therefore directly affect the human life. If the concept of “master” is to be used in this case, nature would be the one to be that master. This mastery means that all of us are depending on it. Therefore, there is no human at the center of the nature; nature’s own relationships are at the center of nature. Today, everywhere we look at, we can see that it is useful to strongly recollect this.

If the relationship between nature and human assumes a form of competition relationship through a great variety of motivations, this has a potential of causing great problems. Indubitably, to be able to sustain life in various ways requires to be in harmony with nature, and to make reasonable changes when needed. Nevertheless, the magnitude of this change creates the difference between spoiling it and harmonization. It is required to sustain life by drawing inspiration from the nature without causing any fundamental changes, and at this point, being moderate is becoming a norm.
In this sense, nature and human acting together to become a happy society depends on the elimination of the relationships of exploitation. Exploitation of soil, water and environment causes direct and indirect problems for the entire humankind. And of course, problems do not lead to happiness. The deterioration of the ordinary course of nature as a complete system also causes the deterioration of the ordinary course of each and every human’s life.

The definition “natural disaster” is a bad use of the concept of nature in that sense. If the minds that build piles of houses on stream beds or economic models that cause climate disasters are not “disasters”, then nature, the order of which is attempted to be broken by external factors, is not a source of disaster at all. The things called “disasters” are the mistakes caused by human beings because of their failure to discover and comprehend the mind and functioning of nature. It can be said that the problem is not related to the functioning of nature, but it lies beneath the mind that acts both as a hindrance and demolisher of that functioning.

After all, a holistic system approach towards nature, instead of an approach of master or slave, seems to be the only way to save nature/humans from the disasters sighted on the horizon. Each and every claim centralizing the opposite would be actions that aggressively destroy the nature.

In the epilogue of the aforementioned book, Andrea Wulf says “Humboldt’s approach regarding the social, economic and political issues being closely related to environmental problems is strongly remains on the agenda.”. The main point in this sentence shows that today it is mandatory for humans to act in a relationship of parts with nature, and not in a relationship of competition. Moreover, it is also a strong emphasis that what’s being done to “nature” causes human/system-related problems. A system of destruction that is in constant fight with nature reproduces itself. It indirectly warns that radically minimizing (and then fully eliminating) the human/system-related aggressiveness might be the way to protect nature and to sustain humanity in its known form. It is highly useful to remind humans of the idea that we, as humans, are a part of the nature over and over again in a strong manner.